Travel Plans and Genocide

(A rather long entry)
I’m not even back in the states yet and I’m already frustrated with how difficult and expensive it is to get from point A to point B. Planning a trip up from Washington DC to Maine is going to involve five different kinds of transportation – plane, metro, train, car, and a bus on the way back. The United States was not designed for travel that is not done by personal car – and we wonder why we have such a hard time getting people to use our public transportation. In Southeast Asia I’d just hop on a bus that would more or less take me straight there, perhaps with a transfer if its a more rural area. Or I could rent myself a car and a driver for the kind of money I’ll be spending on a brief trip up North in the states.
In another logistics type problem, I am attempting to find a room in Bangkok for at least the first night. What I don’t want to do is show up in Bangkok with my unwieldy monster of a suitcase (that did not seem quite so unwieldy prior to this trip), my laptop, and four months of my consumerist shit weighing it all down – without a room to drop it all off in. I just want to go straight to a place and drop it off. I’m not too picky, really. Under $20/night. AC would be nice. Oh yea, and a bed with linens.
1 online reservation, 2 phone calls, and 3 emails later and I still do not have a room. I will get a room, there is no shortage of hotels and (haha I accidentally wrote hostages. Unconscious developing country joke!) hostels in Bangkok. It’s just a matter of what I’m willing to settle for.

In less trivial matters (maybe).
I spent the last week in Phnom Penh (south-eastern Cambodia, the capitol city), mostly being depressed and sick. Depressed because you know, S-21 and the Killing Fields will do that to you. Sick because I’m in Southeast Asia and that will do that to you.
Basically, possibly as a result of eating curry for a straight week, my stomach and large intestine went on strike. The small intestine went along for the ride because of peer pressure, putting my entire gastro intestinal system into abject misery. I spent several days shitting water, drinking electrolyte packets, and curled up in bed clutching my stomach and whining to my roommate. A week later, my stomach is still kind of messed up – I’ve been getting indigestion at the drop of a hat. It’s funny because I just suck up the diarrhea. You know, whatever. I’m lactose intolerant but I eat cheese and ice cream regularly, not to mention living here for the amount of time I have – having shit that’s the wrong consistency is nothing new. But the indigestion has me whining for pepto bismol. This is coming in the form of Thai-produced Gastro bismol, which sounds much more like a superhero but tastes just ass bad if not worse
If I have learned anything this semester I have learned that I am a pansy. A pansy that will suck it up and do what needs to be done, but still a pansy. I love living in my little air-conditioned world and never valued that until I was in an environment with minimal air conditioning (and in some cases, electricity) and maximum heat and humidity. When I am sick, I just want to curl up on the couch, watch endless mind numbing hours of Law and Order, and eat chicken soup and cream of wheat, none of which can be found in Cambodia. And I want the food delivered to me or a kitchen with a microwave to be within sight of this mythical couch.
That’s not exactly the situation when you’re living in a hotel on your own in a country where I would get chicken feet in my chicken noodle soup, if I could find it at all.

S-21 and the Killing Fields were a sobering, mentally exhausting way to spend the day. I saw both of them back to back, which is not how I would have chosen it if I had made the plans but I suppose it was the most convenient. I really meant to write a reflective entry on the whole experience but wireless was scarce and the internet cafes stifling hot.
S-21 is a quiet, sober collection of buildings in the middle of a residential neighborhood. On the outside, there is nothing about it aside from the tourists that tells you that it is a former torture and death camp. On the inside, you have room after room with the original beds and poop-buckets. Original down to the blood splatter on the ceiling. Not so original in that there was much more blood and body-matter stains, along the wall and on the floor, but when there was talk of a trial for the Khmer Rouge leaders, the KR sent a team in to paint over the walls.
Because if the blood isn’t there, the crimes didn’t happen.
They were caught and stopped, and I don’t think any of them thought to paint the ceilings.

What the Khmer Rouge couldn’t easily cover up is the Killing Fields. Despite thousands of bodies already excavated, they couldn’t get all the bones and clothes remnants. After it rains – which it does often in Cambodia – bone and clothes resurface. As you are walking along the paths made around the pits from excavation, you have to step over these unwilling residents of the earth. Eventually though, it becomes so hard to avoid stepping on bones or cloth that accidents happen – to walk through the Killing Fields is to walk on and around the dead in a way that I can’t even explain.

My class on Nation Building after the Khmer Rouge Genocide has probably been one of the more informative ones that I’ve taken this semester – I’ve learned a lot about politics, both international and that of a developing country. Cambodia has money. Yet why do so many of their people live at or below the poverty line? How can you be food poor in a country that has resources and is no longer at war? Why is the average good salary only $25-$40 a month? Why do NGOs provide virtually all of their social services? How is the oil off the coast going to effect the economy of this country what could positively be described as “better than Sudan”?
Case in point:
Over 1.5 million tourists visit Angkor every year. It costs $20/day to enter the grounds. Let’s say that everyone only visits for one day, though in truth the average visit is probably two or three days.
That’s over 30,000,000 USD in tourist revenue from the park alone.
The kicker is? The money apparently doesn’t even go towards maintaining the park. Where does it go? No one has been able to tell me this.

With a government like that, who needs a violent genocide and revolution to kill of its people? Taking the much needed money and resources and putting it into your own pocket works just as well. Hunger is the quiet genocide.

My last final is Friday. I leave for Bangkok on Sunday morning (EST Saturday evening), and I leave for home in about nine days, give or take the time warp that I’ll go through on my way across the Pacific. Pictures will be completely posted before I leave, so keep an eye out for them.

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2 Responses to Travel Plans and Genocide

  1. geistweg says:

    Places seem to have a memory for events as well as structure. It seems like it takes forever for a country to get over the habits it begins during a time of crisis and doubly so when that country is one of the many less developed nations; it took the Marshall Plan (and unprecedented trials) to turn Germany around, and no one seems interested in investing so heavily in Cambodia or Rwanda or Sudan.

    It’s a pleasure to find someone who’s not only interested in the Cambodian genocide but actually traveling through the area. I’ve not had the opportunity, though I’d love to see it at some point.

  2. Megan says:

    I was reading a blog of a current Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia and she recounted a conversation she’d had with one of her fellow volunteers. Apparently the volunteer’s host family’s neighbor had gone to the genocide museum and while she was there saw a picture of the volunteer’s host aunt’s husband– who had previously been MIA.

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